LAS VEGAS — The Society of Plastics Engineers is taking concrete steps to reach young people — with a rollout of a social network later this year — and all people interested in plastics technology, on a just-launched website.
SPE officials said the social networking site, called The Chain (a play on the term polymer chain), will be a place where SPE members can interact — sort of like LinkedIn or Facebook, but more focused on plastics technology when it launches in the fall.
So far, SPE has invested $300,000 in the website, new apps, upgrading the society's own ERP system and planning of the social media site, said Willem De Vos, SPE's CEO. The website went live in mid-April, he said.
“We have a technical library which will be by far the biggest digital library in the world for plastics technology,” he said at a news conference April 28 during Antec 2014, SPE's annual technical smorgasbord. “We're still loading papers. When it will be finished, it will contain between 25,000 and 30,000 technical papers.”
Those papers are from Antecs going back to 1995, when the society began offering its Antec papers in digital format, as well as from the 40-some conferences a year held by SPE divisions around the world, De Vos said. SPE also will offer content from Plastics Engineering, and its publishing partner, John Wiley & Sons Inc. An app for the magazine became available just before Antec 2014.
On SPE's website, users will be able to search the huge number of technical papers by key word, author, and phrase. All papers that apply to the search will come up. You also will be able to search Antecs by year, De Vos said.
It takes time to load the papers, he said, because each one's title has to be manually coded to enable the search.
The old website was hard to search, and outdated, he said. As the world's largest trade association dedicated to technical knowledge, SPE has plenty of content, but needs to improve how it gets disseminated.
SPE's incoming president, Vijay Boolani, said the goal is to have the SPE's website provide a much more focused, useful search than a Google search. This also will help SPE attract young members — a major goal for the society, which is based in Newtown, Conn.
“Everything before was so spread out. If you come to a website and you see it has technology from 10 years ago, you won't be attracted to it,” Boolani said.
De Vos said it will be a major improvement. “So now if you come to the website as an engineer, to search for something, there is a central search function which will search through everything and it will give you an update on everything. For example, if you put in the word ‘polyolefin' or ‘polyurethane' you will get xx-number of papers,” he said.
The name of the website remains the same: www.4spe.org.
Antec 2014, drew about 1,700 people to Las Vegas April 27-30. They could choose from 600 technical papers and panel discussions on new technology, materials and current events issues. Antec also featured a trade show with 106 exhibitors. De Vos said Antec is the largest plastics event in the United States this year.
De Vos said he prefers to meet people face to face, at SPE meetings throughout the year. But as SPE prepares its social network, he speculated on what the future holds.
“You may think this is the mode of associations and societies of the future. Where people, rather than coming together physically, there will be groups existing in a virtual manner all over the world,” he said.
That is likely to increase as SPE becomes more international. About one-third of the total membership of about 15,000 comes from outside of North America, he said. SPE is holding many more international events, including conferences in India, China, the Middle East, Japan, South Korea and Australia.
And SPE — which has less than half the members it had in the 1990s — continues to fight to draw new young people, and keep its college student members in the fold after they graduate.
They can go on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter or LinkedIn. When it's launched this fall, they can join The Chain.
“It will be virtual,” De Vos said. “There will be several virtual places where you can hold your discussions, mostly discussions about technology in the plastics industry.”
At least initially, SPE will monitor discussions on the site and have moderators leading the discussions. “Why? Because we want to keep this as a high-quality site. We don't want people to start advertising their products. We don't want people looking for a job. No. It will be high-quality technical discussions on that platform,” De Vos said.
SPE even changed its logo, making it sleeker and in a bright green color on the website.
The website has only been live a few weeks, not enough time to measure its effectiveness, but De Vos said that already, the “bounce rate” — the number of people who come to the site, then leave quickly without going to another page — is now 20 percent, way down from 60 percent on the old site.